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Immigration myths - There Is No Line

Deporting immigration ignorance.

The easiest way to win a debate is to get the other side to accept your terms before it’s even begun. Even mentioning, say,death panels,” a shadowy “axis of evil,” a “government takeover of healthcare,” “clean coal,” or “illegal immigrants” is to assume without further discussion that these things exist at all.

They do not.

The phrase “illegal alien” is as inaccurate as it is dangerous, and should be recognized for the slur that it is. “Illegal” is not only demeaning and potentially harmful to the very large population of very real people it slanders, but to the immigration “debate” (such as it is at the moment) as a whole.

We would like to see “illegal” replaced throughout all public discourse with the more accurate “undocumented.” Here’s why.

Immigration violators are not criminals.

Unauthorized presence in the United States, in and of itself, is not a crime.

Although the words “illegal” and “criminal” are all too often combined in the same sentence by those who would like to have you forget this, the national conversation about immigration will never move forward until we can agree that “illegal” immigrants are not “guilty” of anything.

Criminals, by definition, violate our criminal statutes. Undocumented individuals are in the United States in violation of certain provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the civil code which governs American immigration law.

This may all sound very lawyerly, but it is an absolutely critical distinction. Perhaps the easiest way to remember it is to imagine two cars on the highway: one being recklessly driven by someone who has spent her evening drinking heavily, and the other being driven 15 miles over the posted speed limit by an otherwise careful driver. The former is committing a crime for which she may well be facing jail time and a criminal record if convicted, while the latter is merely committing a civil infraction which will result in nothing more than a fine and a bump in her car insurance payments.

Immigration law is not concerned with criminal concepts of guilt or innocence, but merely the administrative classifications of “inadmissibility” and “deportability.” Immigration violators are “charged” with civil offenses such as “unlawful presence” under INA 237(a)(1)(B). They are not subject to criminal sentencing, but rather to administrative punishments such as deportation and/or exclusion from future admission to the U.S. The only point at which they become subject to criminal penalties is upon re-entry after deportation.

It is worth noting that House Republicans briefly attempted to rewrite federal immigration law to criminalize the mere physical presence of undocumented individuals during the 2005 debate over H.R. 4437, but this didn’t get too far. It’s one thing to call people “illegal,” but even Congress could see the idiocy of actually criminalizing their existence.

Which brings us to:

Immigration violators are people.

Stigmatizing the undocumented as “illegal” does nothing but actively encourage abuse and neglect of an already-vulnerable population. It needlessly criminalizes the very existence of an entire class of human beings, and gives us license to ignore, exploit, and abuse our neighbors, employees, and fellow taxpayers.

Would you describe a speeder as “criminal,” “felonious,” “illegitimate,” “illicit,” “lawless,” “bad,” “evil,” “immoral,” “shameful,” “sinful,” “unethical,” “wicked,” “wrong,” “reprehensible,” or “unprincipled”? Read more…

The recent tragic murder of Border Patrol Officer Brian A. Terry by bandits while on patrol near the U.S.-Mexican border was a harsh reminder of the daily dangers of the southern border and the courage of the men and women who are risking their lives every day to protect it. Officer Terry was a military and police veteran who was deeply committed to his mission, and his killers (three of whom are now in custody) deserve whatever they get.

But where everyone else saw tragedy, incoming House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) saw opportunity. In a statement issued almost immediately after the sad news became public, he complained that “[t]he Obama administration’s lax enforcement of immigration laws, coupled with calls for mass amnesty, only encourage more illegal immigration,” and asked “[h]ow many more Americans will die before the Obama administration wakes up and starts taking illegal immigration seriously?

Mr. Smith has spent too much time in Washington. Read more…

Don’t you love it when a YouTube video’s title gives you a preview of the intelligence of its content?

There are too many lies, glosses, red herrings, prevarications, half-truths, and weird misrepresentations mixed into this lumpy pabulum to possibly pick through in one post, but here are some of my favorites:

1) “These children have all the legal rights that you and I do!” (:08)

Despite Fox’s strained attempts (to be further discussed in this space sometime soon) to ignore nearly 150 years of judicial interpretation of the plain text of the 14th Amendment or write its proper application off as a “loophole,” jus soli (“right of soil,” a.k.a. “birthright”) citizenship is as American as the First Amendment and the seventh-inning stretch. It is, despite what Glenn Beck might try to tell you, also the law of the land throughout the rest of North America and in dozens of other nations.

2) “…as opposed to the usual immigrants who have to wait in line!” (:18)

Which line was that, again? Read more…

There is no line.

Immigration to the United States of America is, as in most developed nations, nothing like a visit to the post office or the DMV. There is nowhere for potential immigrants to walk up and rip off a pointy slip of paper with a number on it while CNN blares into a crowded waiting room. There are no bored clerks behind dusty plexiglass, no uncomfortable wooden benches, no bowl of complimentary mints on the counter. There is no line.

Yet the lie—as with so many of the immigration myths which will be explored in this space—lives on. Both candidates in the 2008 presidential election repeatedly referenced a so-called “amnesty” plan for undocumented immigrants which would include a requirement that previously undocumented immigrants “go to the back of the line” before receiving residency. Both our current President and the army of right-wing media demagogues who oppose him continue to frame the conversation in terms of “the line.” But there is no line.

It is our position that continuing to discuss immigration into the United States in terms of a “line” does nothing to move the conversation forward. This anachronistic shorthand is, at best, factually inaccurate and, at worst, ethically irresponsible when used by anyone who should know better. The image of “the line” presumes that anyone in the world who is willing to wait it out should be able to immigrate to the United States “the right way,” where the simple truth is that upwards of 99% of the population of the Earth simply has no legal ability to do so. It provides haters with more fuel (“why can’t those line-jumpers just wait their turn?”), policymakers with a flawed and incomplete perspective, and citizens and immigrants alike with a way of thinking about immigration which has no grounding in reality. There is no line.

Perhaps a better way to think about current U.S. immigration policy would be to imagine an unbelievably exclusive after-hours nightclub. Read more…